On being playful

I think I had always thought I was a pretty playful person. Not quite grown up. Prone to fits of giggles. Childish.

A few weeks ago, though, I’d been privy, as an adult minding the group, to a big make-believe game played out between about 5 boys. It was as detailed as it was dramatic. A whole world was created, involving various wars and leagues of rebels and spies and rescue missions and prisoners and journeys. Think Star Wars meets Spooks meets the Odyssey.

Vicious spells were cast with outstretched arms accompanied by cries of ‘Hakuna Matata’, relationships shoaled their way fluidly between brothers in arms and deadly enemies, and flocks (sometimes they 5 became flocks) of them would vault over the sofa to crouch behind and launch missiles at the oncoming army.

When I say it was 5 boys, I do mean that – although technically, I suppose, you’d have to argue that it was 4 boys and a man. But the way he played, this grown up, with utter dedication to the game, never once glancing up at the adults with a sheepish ain’t they cute look or patronising them or engaging in doublethink. He became, for that short time, a genuine and utter equal – and the thing that mattered, the only thing, was the game.

And I realised I’d never seen a game quite like it. I’ve seen adults play games with adults, adhering carefully to the rules and articulating intelligent observations afterwards (or using the game to showcase an open / flirtatious / courageous quality). I’ve seen adults play games with kids, where they take the role of parent or fun older sibling – but in these cases, no matter how involved they get in the game, if another adult enters a shared look will flash across the room, a complicit look which understands yes it a kid’s game, but hey I’m going with it for a bit.

In our rehearsals we play games a lot: running games, team games, story games and big field games (most of which have origins in either drama or kids games, but which I adapt as we go, screaming new instructions at the often confused actors as they throw themselves valiantly into each task). And now more than ever I see the importance of them. The well known and usual points include: bonding a group, warming up the body and mind, shaking up the tempo, knocking people off balance and getting people simply to commit to a moment. Now I see they can also find in you a meeting place of complete conviction and utter abandonment. High stakes and deep joy. Adult horror and childish delight.

And fun. They can be achingly fun.

I’m wickedly scheming what games we will play next time. That in itself, I have to be honest, is a bloody good game!

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